ELEVEN-A-SIDE adult football at grass roots level in this country is dying on its feet.

The number of clubs has dropped dramatically because not enough people want to play,

One of the cures it was hoped would halt or even reverse this decline was the introduction of returnable substitutes, where players who are substituted are allowed to go back on later in the game.

The Reading Football League was part of the trials and the reaction was said to be favourable, so it has been adopted nationally, although it can sometimes be a little tricky for referees.

In youth football, the use of substitutes and in particular returnable substitutes are considered critical to the game.

This season in fact, all restrictions on the number of substitutes that can be used have been removed in youth games.

Therefore, it became a great shock not only to the team involved but I expect to all football clubs, that a court in Reading has decided Winnersh Rangers were guilty of emotional abuse and racism in substituting a player during an Under 10 match and fined £3,000.

It is obvious to anyone who has seen youth football that the substitution procedure is used mainly to ensure that all their members get at least part of the game.

The returnable substitute ability means clubs can even substitute their better players, knowing they can bring them on again later in the game.

When refereeing at youth level, I have seen this happen time and time again.

The father’s action by taking this case to court will quite likely affect his son’s ability to find a club which would risk taking him on as a player, but the repercussions could be far more serious than that.

Adult 11-a-side football may be decliningm but youth football is flourishing.

Go along to recreation grounds on a Saturday morning in Tilehurst, Sonning, Wargrave, Earley and many others and you will find a hive of activity.

This should not be curtailed by an angry dad and an out-of-touch judge.